This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
Whatever the realities of our artistic lives, one thing’s a given: The rest of the world sees us as people who do the work we love.
And because we’re doing the work we love, money isn’t really important.
Wait for it……
Bwah ha ha hahaha!
Seriously, folks, whatever your thoughts on art and money, most artists like to believe their work has value. And many of us are thrilled when others value our work, too. Especially when they value it enough to actually buy it.
Which is why it gets tricky when people ask us to donate our work.
People ask musicians to perform at street fairs “for the exposure.” Artists are asked to donate their work “for a good cause.” Or we’re asked for a discount because they’re a non-profit. We do a show and we’re asked to donate something for a silent auction or raffle.
We all have snappy answers for requests like these. Jack White of ArtCalender says, “Artists die from too much ‘exposure!’” When I’m told I should donate because “it’s for a good cause”, I want to snap, “It’s not my cause”. When event organizers protest my price because they’re a non-profit, I think, “Well, I’m not!”
Most people really don’t know what they’re asking. They aren’t looking to annoy you, they honestly think you’ll be happy for the exposure. They think you’re just as enthusiastic about their cause as they are. Snappy answers and sarcasm aren’t just unprofessional, they can be hurtful to people who didn’t mean you any insult.
Such a come-back can close doors, especially in a small or tightly-knit community. You may need to ask them for a favor someday!
Maybe the cause really is one you believe in and support. Cash donations are a tax write-off, where currently the cash value of your donated artwork isn’t. You’d be surprised how many fund raisers don’t know this. Even so, sometimes I’d still rather donate artwork than cash because of the audience, the event, or the potential for great publicity.
Here are some suggestions for how to handle those constant requests.
KNOW THE VALUE OF WHAT YOU’RE GIVING. If the donation does not net you good publicity or new customers, will it still be worth it to you? I once donated a nice little wall hanging, valued at over $500 which sold at a prestigious fundraiser in Boston for….$50. The event organizers refused to share the purchaser’s information with me, “so artists wouldn’t bug them.” To heap insult on injury, the couple that bought it came to my booth one year at a show—not to add to their collection, but to brag to me how cheaply they’d gotten it. “We couldn’t believe it when nobody else bid on it!” they exclaimed for everyone in my booth to hear. They were so thrilled at their good fortune. I was….humiliated. I know they liked it. I also know that whenever they tell the story about my artwork to their friends, the tag line will forever be, “And we got it for only $50!”
Not only did I give away that piece… Not only did I give away the income I could have earned from its sale…. I gave away the opportunity to sell it to someone who would have been thrilled and honored to own it. Perhaps someone who would have said, “It was expensive, but it was worth every penny.”
ENSURE THEY KNOW THE VALUE OF WHAT YOU’RE GIVING.
Always include an invoice showing the full retail value of the piece. Rather than give a piece outright, offer to sell it to them at your consignment price or wholesale price. They can then keep any profit over that, and you will still be paid your price. I’ve suggested this to fundraiser organizers, and they’ve actually thanked me afterwards. Many people really DO want to help artists, and this arrangement meant more artists were willing to participate.
Suggest a minimum bid. Make sure the auctioneer/program etc. mentions what the retail value of the piece is. (“Wall hanging by nationally-exhibited artist Luann Udell, retail value $600, minimum bid $350”) That way, nobody can think of your work as “free”, but as something of value. The organizers will realize this is sale money you could have deposited into your checking account, too.
BE PRESENT AT ANY PRESENTATIONS, RECEPTIONS, ETC. Use this opportunity to meet prospective buyers and grow your audience. If you can’t be there in person, supply them with an artist statement, post cards, business cards and other marketing materials. Offer extras, in case other attendees are interested in your work.
USE THIS AS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR PUBLICITY Take photos of your work at the event, and have people take your picture with your work. If your work sells, include the proud new owners. If the event organizers are doing publicity, offer your images. If not, do your own press release of the event.
Part 2: The perfect way to handle requests to donate your work!